For Jews, is Valentine’s Day like the Christmas dilemma? Do we or don’t we cave to the hype? The date’s name is after Saint Valentine, letting us know of its Christian origins.
There are several stories claiming right of ownership, one being that Catholic saints are celebrated for their teachings and martyrdom, so along with Saint Patrick’s Day, these days are definitely with Catholic roots. The Roman origin of Saint Valentine’s Day is from a ritual where men gathered to participate for the affections of the local women and since the Roman icon for Valentine’s Day is Cupid, son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, hence, a day of expressing love.
Because of what constitutes a secular holiday, the Code of Jewish Law has a few issues with Valentine’s Day. Is it observed in a religious ceremonial way or is it about the spirit of love that is accentuated? There is so much vagueness as to how the day is observed: many rabbis agree it does not constitute a violation of Jewish law while others advise us to find Jewish holidays that emphasis love.
I once was in a rabbi’s office when he suddenly said, “Please wait, I have something I have to do!” He got on the phone and made a dinner reservation for him and his wife on Valentine’s Day and then called her and told her, in the sweetest of ways, what he was doing for her on 14 February. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me, for I like to think of Valentine’s Day as a day in which we acknowledge, to our significant other, children, grandchildren, family and friends, the power of love to make us all feel fully human.
A Valentine’s Day ritual for me is to sit down and read the love poems my father wrote for my mother while he was overseas during WWll, in France and Germany. He had a journal that I had always seen when I was a kid but never asked him to share the writings, only knowing that he once told me he often wrote while in fox holes. After my parents were killed in a car accident in 1962, I found the journal and was amazed to see this diary filled with his emotions and feelings about war, G-d, love and loss. I would like to share one poem, written to my mother when he was only 19 years old:
It’s been so lonely without you all these days,
I’ve missed you in a thousand ways.
I find myself reading each line that you send
One hundred times over from beginning to end.
My heart beats faster and I’m lonely all the more
When I read “with love to the one I adore.”
But somehow at twilight my longing seems to cease
In the solace which comes from quiet and peace.
And I find relief in happy reveries
Filled with fondest memories.
I remember every phrase you ever said
And sorrow turns to joy instead.
I remember all the plans we made together
And how we wondered if they would ever
Be more than dreams or really come true.
I think so, darling, don’t you?
So it matters not so much
That we are miles apart
As long as you’re here,
Here, in my heart.